Towards Partition

The partition of India was the product of complex processes and was the outcome of several factors and the role of the British, the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress for the division of the subcontinent. Partition was neither inevitable nor the product of sheer chance. It was not the fulfillment of destiny or the logical outcome of the two nation theory; nor was it simply an accident that was produced by a single wrong decision or failure of judgment

Main Events

  • After withdrawing its support to the Cabinet Mission plan, the Muslim League decided on “Direct Action” for winning its Pakistan demand.
  • It announced 16 August 1946 as “Direct Action Day”. On this day, riots broke out in Calcutta, lasting several days and leaving several thousand people dead.
  • British Prime Minister Attlee announced in February, 1947, the Plan for the transfer of Power by June 1948.
  • Lord Moundbatten was sent as Viceroy to India in March to make arrangements for the same.
  • By March 1947 violence spread to many parts of northern India due to League’s stand on the communal division of the country.
  • In the early 1947, due to widespread communal riots and the unworkability of the congress-League coalition in the interim government compelled many to consider the so far unthinkable idea of partition.
  • It was in March 1947 that the Congress high command voted for dividing the Punjab into two halves, one with Muslim majority and the other with Hindu/Sikh majority; and it asked for the application of a similar principle to Bengal.
  • By this time, given the numbers game, many Sikh leaders and Congressmen in the Punjab were convinced that Partition was a necessary evil, otherwise they would be swamped by Muslim majorities and Muslim leaders would dictate terms.
  • In Bengal too, communal Hindu groups, who wanted political power to remain with them, began to fear the “permanent Muslim dominance”.
  • Since these Hindu communal groups were in a numerical minority, they felt that only a division of the province could ensure their political dominance.
  • During this period no efforts could lead to an inter-party understanding and a communal settlement. As a result, India got independence with the Partition of the country in 1947.

Background to Partition

The demand for Pakistan did not arise in a vacuum. It was a product of certain political developments which took place after 1937. The period after 1937 witnessed serious changes in the politics of both the Hindu communal and the Muslim communal forces. In the popularisation of the Pakistan demand the British Policy also played a very active role, by giving it acknowledgement and credibility.

Role of British Policy

  • The growth of Muslim communalism was considerably aided and encouraged by the British by giving it official backing.
  • By 1937 the policy of “divide and rule” really amounted to keeping the Hindu-Muslim divide unbridgeable.
  • The British were willing to go to any length to prolong their rule in India.
  • They deliberately encouraged Jinnah’s Muslim League after 1940 to weaken the national movement and thwart Congress participation in government during the war.
  • After the outbreak of the Second World War the Muslim League was assiduously fostered by Viceroy Linlithgow.
  • The Pakistan demand was used to counter the demand of the Congress that the British should promise that India would be free after the War and as proof of their sincerity, transfer actual control of the government to Indians immediately.
  • The British pointed out that Hindus and Muslims must come to an agreement on how power was to be transferred before the process could begin.
  • The League was officially recognised as the representative voice of Muslims (even though its performance in the last elections hardly substantiated this claim)
  • And it was promised that no political settlement would be made unless it was acceptable to the League.
  • This was a blanket power of veto, which Jinnah was to use to good effect after the War had ended.

League and Partition

  • The year 1937 was a turning point in the history of Muslim communalism.
  • Mohammad Ali Jinnah played a prominent role in the partition process.
  • It was the poor performance of the Muslim League in the elections to the Provincial assemblies in 1937 that compelled him to rethink his strategy.
  • Now the league, which so far had its support among the landlords and elite loyalists, decided to expand its base among the masses.
  • The league started following a campaign of hatred and raised the cry “Islam in danger” and threat from impending “Hindu Raj”.
  • Once the prospect of “Hindu Raj” became a deep-seated fear in the Muslim psyche it was easy to drive home the need for a separate homeland.
  • At its Lahore session in March 1940, the league passed its famous “Lahore Resolution” demanding a sovereign state for the Muslims on the ground Hindus and Muslims were two nations.

Hindu Communalists and Partition

  • The Hindu communalists had fared even worse than their Muslim counterparts in the 1937 election
  • They faced the same choice, they either had to obtain support among masses or face extinction
  • They could not continue their activity from within congress any more.
  • They soon asserted that the Hindus were the only nation living in India and Muslims should either leave or live as a second class citizen in India.
  • By 1946-47, the language of Hindu communalists became extremely vicious.
  • As communal riots spread, the Hindu communalists expanded their influence by posing as saviours of the Hindus.
  • The demand was raised since Pakistan was an Islamic state, India should be declared a Hindu Rajya.

Congress and Partition

  • The Congress acceptance of Partition was the consequence of its failure over the years to bring the Muslim masses into the nationalist mainstream and since 1937, to stem the advancing tide of Muslim communalism
  • In the prevailing atmosphere of hatred and violence during 1946-47, the Congress was still unable to reach out to the Muslim masses
  • Therefore reluctantly accepted the wishes of the majority of the Indian Muslims to carve a nation for themselves.
  • There is one more view that the congress leaders succumbed to the temptation of power and struck a deal with the British by which they got quick power. However, this view has been rejected by modern Historians.

Gandhi’s attitude towards partition

  • The strongest reaction to partition came from Gandhi who had worked for communal harmony for decades.
  • Gandhiji’s unhappiness about partition and his helplessness have often being pointed out.
  • He also had no choice but to accept the inevitable as he was in fact helpless due to communalization of the masses.
  • However, amidst all this turmoil, he worked valiantly towards restoring communal harmony
  • He moved from the villages of Noakhali in East Bengal (present-day Bangladesh) to the villages of Bihar and then to the riot-torn slums of Calcutta and Delhi, in a heroic effort to stop Hindus and Muslims kill each other, careful everywhere to reassure the minority community.

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